Stictly Come Dancing: Strutting back like it never left our screens
PUBLISHED: 11:01 11 September 2018
My frosty sneer after nine long months without the bedazzled ratings behemoth quickly thawed - Strictly has returned and I am already in it for the long haul. Which celebrity is with which dancer? And why wasn’t more made of the fact that Lee Ryan was wearing, ahem, Blue?
Every year, when Saturday night television picks up, myself and the public at large come back into the house after a long, hot summer of being made to believe that the best experiences in life are out there on the fringes of your comfort zone.
Go on, everyone’s doing goat pilates! You’ll love a horse-and-cart tour of Milton Keynes! Try Dave’s new homebrew honey mead!
This time, as I removed the pucca shells tied to my armpit hair during my most recent foray into freestyle drumming, I truly thought I was above such fluffy, light entertainment as Strictly Come Dancing - I was delighted to be proved wrong.
Without any competitive element, just the announcement of which celebrities would dance with which professional, the show arrived back in its primetime home with aplomb, with more cheer and camp charm than any other show can manage.
And there is one nod that this review will make early on before you read any further - the return of the Strictly band to our television screens is a genuine delight.
They are one of the best live groups currently performing, learning up to 15 new songs across all genres and decades every week and every kudos should be paid to them for carrying the show.
Saturday night really did have everything you needed to get back into the Strictly spirit: Tess Daly literally dressed as the coveted glitterball trophy, Claudia Winkleman’s self-aware delivery of the groan-worthy jokes in the script, Shirley Ballas trying to arrive on time to a spot marked on the floor, and a raft of old and new faces to grow to love between now and Christmas.
It is testament to the show that the dancer’s characters are so distinct - fans are already bunching together on social media to make camps and chase up the latest news about their favourite pairs.
At this early stage all the impressions the viewers have of the celebrities are prejudgments from their previous, non-Strictly lives, but that will all change in two weeks when we get a first glimpse of all of them dancing in couples for the first time.
Who did we meet and who are they dancing with?
It appears showrunners are making just enough changes to the format to strike the balance between the familiar and the new.
There’s the usual mix of ex-pop stars, Casualty actors, newsreaders and a rythmically-challenged woman for Anton to defend weekly, but brand new this year is a ‘vlogger’ and YouTube star.
The internet sensation in question, Joe Sugg, is a familiar sight to those under 25 (I’m told).
Sugg, who was celebrating his 26th birthday on Saturday, was the closest anyone on the show seemed to looking bored.
While other celebrities made the effort to react like their new professional dance partner might re-ignite their career, his face carried the disinterest of someone who currently has a captive audience of over 10 million subscribers to his video channel when he heard that he was paired with Diane Busswell.
With sprinter Johnnie Peacock breaking new Strictly ground in 2017, this year’s world-beating Paralympian is triathlete Lauren Steadman, who is partnered with actual child AJ Pritchard.
Some notable moments: Pritchard slid on his knees towards his new partner (exactly the same move he did when discovering he would dance with Mollie King last year, I’m always watching) and them promptly tried an over-ambitions lift, almost showing a nation Steadman’s bum. Nice one AJ.
Seann Walsh, a comedian you haven’t heard from in a while, clearly writhed under expectation of being held to a funnier standard in VTs and interviews, which I imagine is very uncomfortable.
He was visibly relieved when her heard last year’s champion Katya Jones named as his partner and the spotlight shifted off his career, so if he can last a few weeks and fully ingratiate himself into the Strictly life, he might be able to reinvent himself.
Newsreader, journalist and proud owner of large feet, Kate Silverton, was paired with Scrabble-goldmine Aljaz Skorjanec, a decision both seemed delighted with.
Silverton told host Claudia that colleagues had been recommending Aljaz as a suitable dance teacher; Skorjanec literally jumped for joy in Billy Elliot fashion.
Radio presenter Vick Hope scooped new boy Graziano Di Prima in the professional dancer sweepstakes, but the pair are expected to struggle to perform: Hope has yet to find a scrunchie capable of taming her bodacious mane of hair and Di Prima can’t find any buttons for his shirts.
Steps superstar Faye Tozer, whose actual career and public life was skimmed over in a VT so viewers could watch her busk with some spoons, was paired with Giovanni Pernice.
Pernice is expected to be free for rehearsals three days a week in a split-custody arrangement between showrunners and ex-owner Debbie McGee, who has a controlling stake in the Italian dancer’s soul after they became inseparable and insufferable in series 14.
Fellow popstar, Lee Ryan from Blue (who was definitely wearing a teal jacket and missing an open goal), will be dancing with Nadiya Bychkova, who he has previously described as “amazing” and “his dream partner”.
Television doctor and actual doctor, Dr Ranj Singh, has found himself in the cheeriest couple of the series without question, paired with Jeanette Manrara.
Dr Singh is likely to be the victim of some high-concept costume dances utilising his big grin and perfect eyebrows rather than his dance moves early on, so if you’re a fan, now is the time to relish seeing him before he gets booted without getting a fair crack of the whip.
TV detective and cat, Danny John Jules, has been singled out as a potential winner after videos of his dancing in a Billy Joel music video surfaced on the internet.
Coupled up with Welsh dancer Amy Dowden, I recommend watching him carefully: he will either be dazzling to behold in the next fortnight or be dressing in his Red Dwarf costumes each week - there will be no in between.
First celebrity announcement at TV presenter/author Katie Piper was matched with Gorka Marquez, which at this point has the potential to be a winning combination.
I predict some audacious lifts early on as Marquez tries to better his finish from last year as a finalist. Will he push Piper too far? Will she get a training injury or will it be all right on the night? It’s unfair to speculate, but it’s frugal to bet on it and the markets are open at the bottom of this article - read on!
Documentary maker and owner of one strong accent, Stacey Dooley is with the heartthrob for mothers everywhere, Kevin Clifton.
Kevin endeared himself to a nation as a rosy-cheeked cherub and partner to Susan Calman last year, and Dooley recently had a face-to-face interview with a member of the Islamic State group, so you can see why producers spotted they were a match made in heaven.
Ashley Roberts, former Pussycat Doll and now British resident (which is why she’s not on Dancing with the Stars, keep up guys), will join Pacha Kovalev for the show.
Pacha has had some short-lived runs on the show in recent years, making early exits with actress Chizzy Akudolu and newsreader Naga Munchetty, but Roberts’ clear advantage of being a physically fit ex-popstar with a sense of rhythm and movement might just make them contenders.
Also dancing together are Casualty actor Charles Venn and Karen Clifton.
It’s a shame we are going to see Venn dance because if there’s one thing we learned from his VT, it is that he is the world’s most interesting man.
Viewers will be lucky if every dance starts with a reading from the phonebook; if he can translate any of that enigmatic personality into his dancing he will stand a great chance.
Cricket legend Graeme Swann is playing the role of the nation’s dad in this year’s competition and genuinely seems to be excited to give this dancing lark a go.
His partner Oti Mabuse will not be taking any prisoners as he learns his way around a ballroom, but there is something very endearing about a contestant willing to give it everything they have, no matter the cost to their dignity. I think he will do well.
And finally, half of noughties power-dressing couple, Susannah Constantine, was unimaginatively paired with resident personality Anton Du Beke. If I think it was too obvious, and Brendan Cole thinks it was too obvious, then it was too obvious, but still worth doing for the benefit of the format of the show - can you imagine the complaints if Anton was given someone with a chance and expected to take it seriously?
So the couples are training, the judges are warming up their paddles, and I’m firing up the glue gun go get those rhinestones on my cuffs in time for the next show on September 21. Get excited everyone!